Thousands of Latinos travel to the United States to get the COVID vaccine in what has been called ‘vaccine tourism’ because their countries have lagged behind in their campaigns to immunize the population. Travel to the U.S. has shifted from tourism to primarily medical purposes.
Currently, all adults in the United States can now receive the vaccine. It is increasingly easy to get an appointment and the immunization rate remains at three million doses per day and has reached peaks of more than four million.
Peru, for example, has only vaccinated adults over 80 years of age and health personnel. According to El Peruano, only 890,402 people have been vaccinated so far.
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According to the international portal Time to Herd, which uses information from Our World in Data, Colombia needs two years to achieve herd immunity against COVID, taking into account the current rate of vaccination. According to the same portal, Argentina is 1.4 years away from full immunization, and Brazil 1.6 years. Peru, Paraguay, and Venezuela will need more than four years to vaccinate the entire population.
The so-called ‘vaccine tourism’
The number of passengers from Central and South America has increased dramatically, according to local media. They travel from Panama, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, and even Venezuela to the U.S. to get vaccinated. Some succeed in getting it and others miss the trip.
“I travel to the USA frequently for work, but this time I traveled to get the vaccine because in my country the vaccination campaign is only for the elderly over 80 years old, I thought I could get the shot and return in three days, but I did not get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is a single dose and I missed the trip”, said Peruvian Miguel Vera to El American.
“Right now I’m in North Carolina, they didn’t ask us for anything, there are too many people in this country who don’t want to get vaccinated. When I got vaccinated, the nurses congratulated me for making the decision,” Renzo Vílchez, who also traveled from Peru, explained to El American.
Vílchez was surprised by the efficiency of the U.S. health system: “I went in with my passport to get vaccinated and they ended up registering me as a Peruvian resident coming to get vaccinated, that’s what they put on the form […] I made my appointment and within two hours I was vaccinated, that’s how efficient it was.”
He also stated that the decision to join the increasingly popular ‘vaccine tourism’ movement and not get vaccinated in Peru originated because many do not trust the South American government to be efficient in the process and do not want to risk their families. “Now I am just waiting for the second dose because I got the one from Pfizer,” he explained.
“The good thing about this is that if I get COVID-19 at least I won’t have to occupy an ICU bed that another Peruvian compatriot who can’t travel will need.”
Recently, North Miami Beach Mayor Anthony F. DeFillipo invited international tourists to travel to South Florida to receive the vaccine. The mayor is following in the footsteps of other states such as Texas, Arizona and Louisiana, where they have already initiated unrestricted immunization.
DeFillipo revealed that he has already contacted the consulates of Peru, Colombia and Honduras to advise their citizens that they can get vaccinated in North Miami Beach and “that no one will take away their tourist visa.”
“Tourists only need their passport and the address of the hotel or consulate to get vaccinated,” the mayor explained.
“I bought tickets for the four members of my family, we will travel next week to Miami to get vaccinated, we will return only when we have gotten it,” Colombian lawyer Alejandro Uribe told El American.
No visa and no vaccine
Just as thousands of citizens of the region have visas to travel to the United States to get vaccinated, the majority of the population does not have the document to enter that country.
While those who have the visa and the money to travel feel relieved because they will be able to be immunized, those who cannot do so live in uncertainty and have vague hopes of being able to do so in the short term.
“My passport and my mother’s (90 years old) expired, we have no money to travel and here in Venezuela not only there are no vaccines, but there are no medicines to treat the virus either,” Venezuelan Gonzalo Martin, who has been waiting for more than three months for his passport in the country ruled by Nicolas Maduro’s regime, told El American.